Support for Ukraine in schools
- The figures lie in stark comparison to the treatment of Palestine last year, where our cases – as well as those of other advocacy organisations and countless anecdotes – indicated that pupils (and staff) were treated punitively for attempting to express solidarity.
- This includes even mild forms of support such as wearing colours or representations of the Palestine flag.
Conversely, 80 survey responses mention schools promoting motifs of the Ukraine flag (such as encouraging children to wear blue and yellow for non-uniform days, or hoisting the Ukraine flag on school grounds. This figure does not include the many schools which featured the Ukraine flag prominently on their newsletters).
- The most frequent single category of activities undertaken by schools according to our survey was fundraisers/donation drives, with 287 occurrences.A number of Palestine-related cases in 2021 centred on hostile or heavy handed approach to fundraising attempts. This included cases where schoolteachers and management demanded that any fundraisers were split between ‘both sides’ – Palestinians and Israelis.
No such demands appear to have emerged with regard to school fundraisers for Ukraine, nor were misguided notions of ‘impartiality’ invoked to justify inaction from the responses we were provided with.
- Survey responses picked up on this disparity.
Speaking on the case of a girls’ secondary school in Birmingham, one respondent mentioned how:
‘They deflected questions and didn’t give students the answers they were looking for when asked why funds were being raised for Ukraine and they weren’t even allowed to wear badges for Palestine. The only time where they directly spoke about Palestine was in an email about a year ago and it was discouraging any efforts made to raise funds. The double standards are uncanny.’
The same respondent also included the following anecdote from a student at the school, which suggested that the deputy headteacher had themselves acknowledged the error of the school’s past approach (towards fundraising for Palestine), albeit without being entirely forthcoming about their shortcomings:
‘So when I emailed the teacher who organises charity events, the following morning the deputy head spoke to me and told me that the school has learnt from their past mistakes and that they will be taking action on such events quicker in future. After a long conversation, she admitted the school’s wrongdoing and said that the large amount of awareness and support shown on the current Ukraine-Russia situation had nothing to do with race and religion, rather it was about ‘people.’ But when I asked about why the school discouraged any sort of support for Palestine previously, she just went off topic so I didn’t get an answer.’
Another parent’s response regarding a school fundraising for Ukraine exemplified the stark over-policing of Palestine solidarity, giving the following anecdote from the school’s actions in 2021:
‘My daughter was actually [reported] to Child safeguarding officer [last] year [as] she discussed how her dad was [raising] money for Palestine, her teacher thought she was afraid and scared by being exposed to the conflict in Palestine. I had a long discussion and an apology was given by the headteacher.’
- In the case of the Israeli war on Gaza schools and teachers used laws around political impartiality of school to censor any discussions around Palestine and Israel.
In contrast, responses to our survey suggest that teaching professionals felt far less inhibited in expressing distinctly politicised, and at times potentially incendiary statements on the Russia-Ukraine war.One London primary school issued a newsletter to parents and carers
‘[making] it clear that our school stands with the international community in its condemnation of the aggression by Russia against the Ukraine[…]
We who are fortunate enough to live in a country safe from such aggression have a responsibility to show our solidarity”
Comparisons between Vladmir Putin and Adolf Hitler were alleged in some responses – with one claiming that ‘[Teachers] said that the [Russian] Prime Minister Putin is acting like Adolf Hitler because he is land grabbing’ while another alleges being told ‘That the PM of Russia is akin to Adolf Hitler [because] he rules through fear and that the PM of Ukraine is good as he is on the front line’.
A further response alleges that their school ‘Related [the] Ukraine situation to [the] Taliban and [bombing]’.
- The openness with which schools have expressed forceful solidarity with Ukraine belies the excuses that pupils and parents – largely Muslim – were subject to by schools last year to justify ignoring the war on Gaza. Indeed some respondents spoke to this disparity in explicit terms.One stated that
‘[The school] organised a collection for Ukraine but we were unable to do the same for Palestine as it was ‘political as it was due to religion’. We asked to do an assembly or put posters up and fundraise for Palestine and they said no but they are doing it all for Ukraine.
While another related that
‘My granddaughter actually emailed and approached the school last year requesting them to hold an assembly one minute silence for the children who had lost their lives during the bombardment by Israel.
She was told that “politics should not be brought into the schools and schools should be neutral”. She also questioned why the Palestinian flags that were put up on the walls of the classrooms including in teachers offices were removed the next day?
She was told that it is a sensitive situation whereby they do not want to hurt the feelings of certain members of staff who were Israelis.’
- The theme of taking an ‘apolitical stance’ to justify inaction was a recurring theme in 2021. A respondent to the survey mentioned the following experience:
‘When the protest went on for Palestine I tried to do an assembly based on it but got told it’s too political and they do not go into political stuff like that. I also wore the [keffiyeh] and got told to remove it as it was not school uniform however also shows your injustice [sic].
Now that the war in Ukraine has taken place my school has decided to speak up about it, wrote it in newsletters, do assemblies based on it, wear badges representing the country, making food banks to [support] them and holding a cake sale to provide Ukraine with money.
They did all of this for Ukraine even though it was political but one gesture for Palestine like wearing the badge or [keffiyeh] you will be reported to the teachers.’
A further respondent describes how their child’s school
‘[Raised] money for Ukraine. My son said that he carried about £300 from his classroom to the headteacher office […]
Last year, children tried to raise money to help families that were attack[ed] and had their houses destroyed in Palestine, but the School prevented and [even] threaten[ed] the organiser to take disciplinary actions.
Their excuses were that schools should never be involved in charities that help people in conflict/war zone even if the help is humanitarian help for civilian[s]. ‘
‘[There] is something to be said about the unique way in which Palestine solidarity is not just treated differently, but actively securitised…The attack on Palestine solidarity under the guise of bureaucratic maneuvering is deeply cynical and invoking school policy or law to censor students has proven deeply confusing for students, parents and even teachers. More concerningly, it threatens to undermine the principles of civic education that should be at the heart of the education system’
The open embrace of Ukraine and Ukrainians as an issue to support validates our conclusion made then – especially when compared with the fear, securitisation and outright Islamophobia that accompanied expressions of Palestine solidarity.